Comparison Tables: Smart or Dangerous?

Recently, the following question was posted anonymously on a site called FounderDating: “Should I name our competitor in our features comparison table, or does that just amount to free publicity?”

Mobile megaphoneRecently, the following question was posted anonymously on a site called FounderDating: “Should I name our competitor in our features comparison table, or does that just amount to free publicity?”

Started in 2009, FounderDating was started as a place where entrepreneurs could find co-founders. FounderDating invited industry experts (advisors) to join in 2014. Founders could then either seek them out directly, or pose a question, tag it with keywords for specific category expertise and then sit back and wait for response.

In total, more than three dozen individuals responded to the question posed above — the first 16 within five hours of the post. But the discussion that ensued was fascinating and because this is a topic that I’ll be covering in webinar I’m participating in on May 3, I thought it was a valuable topic to review here.

Before I get to the various ideas that were provided, here’s some background on the company that posed the question:

“We are a new entry into a very niche market… we also have a vastly superior product offering to that of our competitors. Our features blow them away, but we are slightly higher in price. My thought was to provide a features-comparison table to justify our pricing relative to theirs. My concern is whether to name them or just say “Us” vs “Them” or “Others”, etc.. Thoughts?”

To me, the idea of a comparison chart and the use of named competitors is a strategic marketing question, but the advice poured in from CTOs, CFOs, CEOs, attorneys, a pricing specialist, engineers, other founders — but only one or two marketers. And, as expected, the collective responses were all over the map.

After reading all of them, I’m not sure any one answer provided the most valuable perspective. Some were dismissive of even including a chart at all, while others suggested only naming well-known competitors and information about them that was available publicly (ie. proved the point).

However, I wanted to take a step back and talk about when and where to use a chart like this — and how, in my opinion, to get the most value out of creating one.

Smart Idea When Used in the Right Stage of the Buy Cycle

In my experience, a comparison chart is a great marketing tool that can be used with great success if it’s used when a buyer is in the middle of the buying process. For most business buyers, the discovery process does not start with comparing brands; instead their focus is on category solutions. They are either experiencing some sort of “pain” in their business, or are trying to research an idea. In this early phase of research, most are trying to get a handle on what their peers are doing, or are seeking some timely or unique information that can help provide insight.

But once they have completed that phase of their buying journey, they become more open to thinking about a brand solution — and here’s where a comparison chart can be helpful.

Include Features and Benefits to Strategically Differentiate

A comparison chart can help to level the playing field by providing a head-to-head contrast in features but, when done well, it can also include commentary about benefits of any particular feature. It’s not necessary to include price as part of the comparison as the buyer is not ready to even think about price without a deeper dive into your particular product/solution.

The best charts are not chest-pounding “look at me!” comparisons, but rather straightforward, authentic and easy-to-understand tools that build credibility for your brand. They do not overly emphasize your brand over another (which detracts from the credibility factor) so there are no logos. Just remember, buyers are neither dumb nor “tricked” by an obviously self-promotional piece, so don’t waste your energy creating one in that vein.

Consider Leveraging an Independent, 3rd Party

Another strategy is to hire an outside, third party industry pundit to create or review your comparison chart to ensure it feels balanced and transparent. Plus, having an outsider prepare or review it and provide a stamp of approval means it’s less likely that a competitor could challenge the findings.

One Note of Caution

As an attorney noted in the comments section of the FounderDating post, make sure there is no misrepresentation of a competitor’s products, and properly identify any trademarks to their rightful owners.

So here’s the question: Does your brand have the strategic smarts to design and implement a competitor chart that helps position your product/solution in the best possible light? Would you publish it if you could? Do you think it might help propel your brand to the front of the consideration set? I’d love to hear from fellow marketers.

The Best Brand Gift Ever!

I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person … excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it’s how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is something from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.

I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person … excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it’s how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is, as the song says, some version of “12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves or even a partridge in a pear tree.” You don’t need or want more stuff. You want a meaningful, long-lasting, brand-enhancing and life-affirming gift. Something useful and practical.

What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.

The deal is that no one can give this gift to you. It’s a selfie. There’s no outsourcing this skill to a personal shopper, no concierge service that can do this for you. It’s a true DIYer.

As YES people, the word NO is an infrequent part of our vocabulary—in our brand lives and in our personal lives. But I have found that the happiest and most productive people have given themselves the gift of NO. They have learned to make NO a natural part of their DNA … both in and out of the office.

So, before you head out of the office to start holiday celebrations, why not raise a toast to that little two-letter word NO and see if these bits of inspiration may encourage you to treat yourself (and the brand you lead) to this very important present:

1. The gift of a new discipline … making no an art form. Missy Park, founder of Title Nine, echoes the power of no. “In my book, saying yes is over-rated. Fact is, it’s easy to say yes. No difficult choices, no disappointments. Ahh, but saying no. That is the real art form. There’s choosing to say no which can be wrenching. There is choosing when to say no, which is often. And then there’s saying it graciously, which is very hard indeed.”

2. The gift of throwing in the towel … the towel that really doesn’t matter. I greatly admire Bob Goff. He’s an author, an attorney and founder of Restore International, a nonprofit human rights organization. He wisely shares: “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” With that in mind, Goff makes it a habit to quit something every Thursday. It liberates him for new things. What can you be simply done with?

3. The gift of margin … build in white space … everywhere! Dr. Richard Swensen, a physician-futurist, educator and author, advocates for purposefully creating mental, emotional, physical and spiritual breathing room in our full-to-brimming professional and personal lives. He calls it margin—like the white space around pages of books. He counsels that we need it more than ever. Appropriately saying NO gives us more white space.

4. The gift of focus … just say no … perhaps three times or more! Steve Jobs, Apple’s brilliant and passionate founder, shared this: “Focusing is about saying no. You’ve got say no, no, no. The result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

5. The gift of eliminating even more non-urgent and unimportant time fritters. Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” cautions us to be careful of defaulting too often into what he calls Quadrant 4 of his time management matrix … the place we naturally drift after spending lots of time in urgent and crisis modes: trivia, busywork, mindless surfing. Just say goodbye to all the nonessentials.

6. The gift of stopping … count the ways. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” encourages us to create STOP DOING LISTS. That’s right … enumerate all things you are no longer going to do. Start by simply saying no to his Venn diagram of three crucial things-activities that are you are not deeply passionate about, that you feel you are not genetically encoded for and things that don’t make much economic sense.

7. The gift of holding back … a permission slip for more B+s. Must everything be done to an A+ perfection level? Pick and choose those activities that really warrant this kind of energy. Challenge yourself to not be an honors student in all you do. Award-winning author Anne Lamott had to remind herself in midlife that “a B+ is just fine.”

8. The gift of less … hit that delete key more often. Do we really need (or have time to read) all those subscriptions? Must we? Find satisfaction in architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe “less is more” philosophy. Go ahead—delete, unsubscribe, edit, curate. Whatever you have to call this process, just do it.

9. The gift of simplicity … now. Years ago naturalist and poet, Henry David Thoreau warned us: “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Alan Seigel updates that sentiment for brand leaders in his book: Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity. Perhaps it’s time to give yourself and your brand the gift of a serious simplification process.

10. The gift of benign neglect … just ignore it! Do we really have to have a multiplatform constantly clean inbox? Who cares? What’s the point? Mani S. Sivasubramanian, author of “How To Focus – Stop Procrastinating, Improve Your Concentration & Get Things Done – Easily!” writes: “Information overload (on all levels) is exactly WHY you need an “ignore list.” It has never been more important to be able to say “No.”

11. The gift of checking back in with yourself … so, what matters now? In her book “Fierce Conversations,” leadership development architect Susan Scott suggests people change and forget to tell one another. That is true. Sometimes we even forget to tell ourselves. What has changed for you or your brand? Your energy level? Your tolerance? Your interests? Your competition? Your customers? What needs revisiting so that your yeses are truly yeses and your nos are truly nos?

12. The gift of a do-over … recycle your mistakes. We’ve all made the mistake of saying yes when we should have said no. Jot down a few of those do-overs on a post it note. What were the learning lessons? Keep that note to yourself handy.

‘Tis the season for gift-giving. Be kind to yourself and to your brand and make the practice of gracious NO saying not only a year end gift, but a long lasting part of your DNA.